Boker tov. We wake in waves. Our room is cool. Outside it is hot. Breakfast is served in the lounge where the pool table is turned into a smorgasbord of goodies: chop salad, hard boiled eggs, hummus, cabbage, beets, breads, a spicy egg dish, potatoes and probably a few things I can’t remember. The coffee: Israeli instant, sort of Turkish-style without bringing it to a boil several times. Just pour in the hot water. And the juice: pink kool-aid. All good. Filling. Ready for a day out. Sasha, Isaiah and Sam head off to the beach after procuring some sun screen. I change dollars for shekels, that I learn you don’t do at a bank, rather at a change place. I am changing Dollars that I withdrew from the cash machine the night before thinking I would get shekels instead. Lots of little customs to figure out. Bernard grabs a taxi and heads for the Diaspora Museum. I start walking. My favorite way to explore.
I walk down Ben Yehuda past shops of all kinds. The sidewalks are crowded but there is a steady stream: women pushing baby carriages, people on bikes, men and women walking with packages, tourists, stray cats. I stop to look in the window of a music store. I can see they sell guitars and accordions. Scandalli accordions no less. They invite me in — the owner, I think, and his mother. We talk accordions. I tell them about my backstraps. We exchange websites. We talk about New York. The mom hasn’t been there but she has heard of the Catskills, the Borscht Belt no doubt. Perhaps I will have a chance to stop back and leave a back strap.
Eventually Ben Yehuda turns into Allenby. And in just a few blocks I turn right into the Carmel Market — a street closed off to traffic and filled with food and wares of every kind. It is crowded with people, also of every kind. I walk. I look. I stop and buy some cherries (ILS 9.99 a kilo). I walk on to the end. Out into the bright hot sun.
We are essentially here in Israel to see Ben. We haven’t yet, because his army duties have prevented him from joining us right away. I get a text from him saying he thinks he’ll meet us tonight.
Now that I have passed through the Yeminte quarter I work my way past the busses and a lot of parking lots until I find a road into the Neve Tzedek section. I’d call this a hip and cool area of narrow streets, well kept and clean. Old buildings with small shop entrances. Very few have big glass windows. This area is know for it’s arts. Hand made items. Local designer clothing. Quaint little cafes. Itis very pretty and quite calm after the bustle of the market. I stop in a jewelry makers shop, Ronit’s. Beautiful pieces. I am taken by two different pairs of earrings. One are hoops with little jangly things hanging down. The other incorporate unusual mother of pearl. The later are made by Ronit’s daughter who is tending the shop and working at her bench. Partially because I like that they are different ( I hear Sasha reminding me that I always buy a version of the same thing) and partly because I am talking to their maker, I choose the mother of pearl. Further down the road I stop in a shop called Badim that my friend Michelle has recommended. There I buy a very light weight white shirt — a very cool cover up, protection from the sun, that I have already been grateful to have. The first clerk is an Israeli. We talk about my trip and she recommends a guest house in Eilat. The second clerk is from Australia, recently married to an Israeli. We talk knitting and sewing, something she says is not big here in Israel. Eventually I move on making my way back to the promemnade the traverses the coastline. It is mid afternoon and the sun is hot. I stop every so often and sit in the shade. I can tell I’m getting a bit sunburned. I witness two of the many bikes that zoom up and down the promenade collide, one of them admitting he was texting while peddling. at a certain point I look for the kids but I never see them. From this distance they all look too much alike and there are many groups sitting along the beach. An icy lemonade is refreshing. Heading back to the hostel I sit on a shaded bench on a street corner. And eventually make my way to a falafel stand where I not only get a falafel but also learn that I can add “raba” to “toda” in order to say thank you very much. Back to the hostel.
I have already purchased our train tickets. My first real opportunity to use one of my four Hebrew phrases. I ask if she speaks English and she actually understands what I am saying. On to the train. About an hour and a half to Be’er Sheva. The landscape is desert in colors, interspersed with the lushest green agricultural patches. Now and then a few stray camels or herds of sheep or goats. Upon arrival we watch the master haggle with the drivers to get us two taxis to The Black, the local burger place Ben has chosen for our reunion dinner! A lot of burgers later we do the taxi thing again and head to Hazerim, the kibbutz that Ben lives on. It is dark by now so it is hard to see much. First, lots of lights in the town, many high rise apartment buildings, all concrete and sandy colored. Soon it is quite dark and then we approach the kibbutz. Through a big guarded gate to the drop off point. We unload and start walking through what feels like a college campus. Lots of intersecting side walks with benches and evidence of some events (stacked chairs and tables). As we enter a residential area we are met by Michal. She is the Mom of Ben’s Israeli family. She has so clearly been a great mom and a source of comfort to us as well as to Ben. She greets us all. And takes us to our apartment on the second floor of one of the residential buildings. She has arranged this lovely place complete with snacks and coffee. We are her guests. She leaves us and we sit and talk for awhile. Ben goes to his place. He has to return to his army group early in the morning. The rest of us talk or sleep for a while longer until we are all snoozing through our second night Israel.
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